Michael J. Payton is a filmmaker, entrepreneur, and community change agent whose creative drive situates itself at the vibrant intersection of music and visual expression. He went on to earn his Master’s degree in Media Culture and Communication from NYU, where he also produced the short documentary about the Murder Inc. story that caught Gotti’s attention and led to Payton being involved in the project on network television.

Can you let everyone know who is Michael J. Payton?

I’m a believer. I’m a disrupter. I’m someone who does not see limits as far as what one can do if given the opportunity, no matter where you’re from or your circumstances. That’s the energy I carry with me in everything that I do. Whether it is filmmaking, working in the community, or any other space I am in – I love to challenge norms and push the boundaries of what’s possible 

As a filmmaker, entrepreneur, and community change agent, you also experienced having Jay-Z send you to college, as well as help with your career. Can you tell us a little about that?

When I was coming of age, Shawn “Jay-Z” Carter was my biggest hero. I gravitated to his music and the entrepreneurial values he ascribes in his lyrics. When I was 18 years old, I wrote an essay to the Shawn Carter Foundation, a scholarship fund started by Jay and his mother Hon. Dr. Gloria Carter. In my essay, I expressed my educational goals and that I wanted to use my education to create change in my community. Thankfully I was granted a scholarship by the Foundation which carried with me throughout my entire undergraduate education at San Francisco State University, where I studied media and broadcasting. A decade later, here I am doing what I studied thanks to the support I received from Jay’s foundation. As fate would have it, I end up directing and producing the Murder Inc Story on BET, and I had the incredible privilege to interview Jay-Z for my directorial debut. Very much a full-circle moment. 

As the director and producer of “The Murder Inc. Story, film, can you tell us more about how this came about and why you wanted to get involved?

In grad school at NYU, I produced and published an unauthorized documentary on YouTube about Irv Gotti and Murder Inc. Records. The video went viral on social media, which caught Irv’s attention. He reached out to me on Instagram and said he really enjoyed my unauthorized doc and my knowledge and appreciation for hip-hop culture, then he asked me to direct his official documentary, The Murder Inc. Story on BET. 

I made the unauthorized doc because, like Jay, Irv’s story was one I deeply appreciated and drew inspiration from as a young entrepreneur and creative. Irv and Murder Inc had a profound impact on me getting into the entertainment business early on. 

While earning your master’s you produced the short documentary about the Murder Inc. Story, which Gotti caught wind of, and it’s noted how he discovered you. Can you tell us about that experience and encounter? 

The most unbelievable aspect of the story of Irv and I meeting is the day that Irv reached for me on Instagram, it was the exact day that I buried my beloved mother, Cookie. I am an only child, and my mom was my entire world, so you could imagine that I was completely torn to pieces that day burying the woman that brought me into the world and was my number one supporter. But as fate would have it, that very same day, Irv would reach out and offer me this amazing opportunity to work on his documentary, and it really was a blessing because it gave me hope and something to look forward to.

Can you tell us about some of the lessons you were able to learn from Irv Gotti while filming The Murder Inc Story?

One thing that I learned about Irv while filming the doc was that he is supremely confident in himself and what he’s passionate about. If he has a goal, get the hell out of his way, because he’s coming for it. Another thing that I learned, is that he is deeply in love with and committed to his family. He is the youngest of 8, and his entire family is super close and affectionate – it’s very inspiring to see the love that they all have for one another. 

Being the first lady of Murder Inc, can you tell us why Ashanti wasn’t included in the Murder Inc. Story?

Ashanti has had her differences with Irv Gotti and that’s well documented. The truth is, I personally reached out to Ashanti and her camp to have her involved and tell her side of the story, but she respectfully declined. I am a huge fan of Ashanti, and deeply admire her groundbreaking work and career, so I wish I could have had her participation in the doc.

Looking back on it now, are there any parts of the film that you would change or add? 

I only wish that we had more time to fit in more of the amazing Murder Inc story! Doing a show for network TV, you only have about 40 minutes of true run time when you factor in commercial breaks. Therefore, we didn’t have the space to go as deep on some stories as I would have liked, but I think we still managed to tell an incredible story. So, no regrets! 

What were some of the wildest moments from filing The Murder Inc Story?

Just some of the behind-the-scenes drama of putting this show together. There were times when we thought we had certain artists/interviewees (I won’t name any names haha) but we didn’t know for sure if they would show up or be on time, and we were working on a tight schedule. There were times that we had to pivot creatively to stay on track, but for the most part, no over-the-top crazy moments. 

What would you like our views to gain from this interview? 

I hope people gain inspiration and motivation from my story. As I stated above, I don’t see limits in my life, but it wasn’t always like that. I had to grow from the things I’ve experienced, and it has taught me that anything is possible, if you put your mind to it. Be fearless and go after what you want, even when it seems hopeless. 

How can people connect with you?

Reach me on Twitter @csuitemusic_

On Instagram @csuitemusic 

And subscribe to my YouTube channel:

Photo Credits: Sarah Beth Arnold